The Flowers of Evil

Alt title: Aku no Hana

TV (13 eps)
3.326 out of 5 from 4,001 votes
Rank #8,643

Takao Kasuga is a lonely boy who spends his days immersed in books to escape his frustration with life. His only source of joy is the beautiful Saeki, who he secretly admires from afar. However, Takao's obsession goes too far one day when, in a moment of emotional folly, he steals the girl's gym clothes and takes them home with him. Worse, his terrible deed is spotted by Sawa Nakamura, a mysterious outcast who sits behind him in class who threatens to reveal the boy's secret unless he promises to engage in a contract with her. At first it seems Sawa just wants some companionship, but soon it becomes clear that this "contract" involves more than mere afternoon chats. In fact, Takao is about to discover just how dangerous his bond with Sawa is and how it threatens to tear everything - his life, his love, and even his sanity - apart. 

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Aku no Hana is a masterpiece in a medium that has difficulty recognizing artistic perfection unless that greatness exists along pre-established lines. You may have already heard of the show as the one with rotoscoped animation – the show that anime fans by and large decried for being ugly, boring, and too different – too unlike anime. After all, anime have always existed as escapist tales of either over-the-top or nearly meaningless consequence, populated by purposely designed caricatures; Aku no Hana is not that. There seems to be little room in public perception for the medium to evolve out from under the prejudices of the average anime viewer. It is a shame, then, that we must discuss Aku no Hana as a work all but completely ignored when it is easily the most important anime of the decade so far and one of the most important of all time – let alone one of the best. The story of Aku no Hana concerns a teenage love triangle where no one is in love. Our protagonist, Kasuga, is just another average student with nothing that set him apart from his peers, though he fancies himself an intellectual due to his love of French poetry and philosophy. He is neither like Saeki, the popular star student whom he secretly loves and deifies, nor like Nakamura, the foul-mouthed and emotionally unstable girl whom the class collectively hates. His life is average. One day, he realizes left behind one of his prized books at school and returns in the late afternoon to retrieve it. The book is a translated version of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, an anthology of poems dealing with moral decadence and perversion as a grotesque yet exciting response to ennui and normalcy. In the moment Kasuga finds his book, a bag containing Saeki’s gym uniform falls off of the classroom shelves and onto the floor. Kasuga gives in to sexual curiosity and removes the uniform from the bag, panics at a noise, and stuffs the clothes under his own, running home in shame. The next day, everyone knows that the uniform has been stolen and Saeki is mortified, but none suspect Kasuga. With her clothes back in his bedroom, Kasuga feels like he has gone past a point of no return, but when Nakamura confronts hims with her knowledge of his secret, Kasuga’s daily life becomes something else entirely. The plot is an an unassuming one, but it is riveting to watch it play out. Nakamura is unwavering in blackmailing Kasuga, forcing upon him all manner of sadistic demands that result in physical, emotional, and psychological pain. She sees in him a fellow deviant who must be awakened. Saeki, on the other hand, ends up dating Kasuga, with her naiveté about relationships pulling him ever closer while he wrestles with the stabbing guilt he feels over his secret trespass. What’s more, Kasuga’s constant trauma and stress have actually made the choice between Saeki and Nakamura a real one. He desires certain parts of each while they try to redefine the different halves they have seen of him as his whole. It is a love triangle without love, but rather of dependence, desire, selfishness, unfair expectations, and pain. The subject matter is twisted and the events melodramatic, but possibly the most important reason why the production works lies in how the characters are still undeniably relatable, believable, and human under these extreme circumstances. Nakamura has no easy psychological answer to why she acts the way she does. She is damaged and emotionally hard, but she is also lonely. She is ecstatic about her connection with Kasuga and when not forcing demands upon him, she requests after-school meetings with him, only to talk. Saeki is not simply desperate for a relationship. She is happy that Kasuga likes her, but her confusion about his erratic behavior and his visibly close relationship to Nakamura translates into insecurity and self-blame. Her attempts to guide her first ever relationship back to “normal” take their toll. Kasuga’s role in the story is paramount and he is neither a pure innocent being tortured nor a closet deviant realizing his true nature. He is but a teenage boy who made an impulsive mistake: the consequences of which led to two intense emotional relationships of a sort he has never experienced, and he loses himself in both. His genuine desire to understand the greatness of Baudelaire is matched with a Holden Caulfield-esque pretension that he is already there, too smart and too ambitious for the town in which he lives. But even as events spiral out of control, his analysis of them along the thematic lines of the art he so admires is piecemeal and naive. He is a confused teenager; they are all confused teenagers and that you can see that, believe that, and relate to that so strongly makes Aku no Hana a tragic drama as good as the best of them. It’s a powerful story and the aesthetics used to communicate it are just as impressive. Anime should not have to be confined to one style of animation and the rotoscoping of Aku no Hana proves that (though it will be some time before that proof is accepted). Director Hiroshi Nagahama’s choice to make the show in this way places the visuals in a space between live-action and animation that is more effective than either medium on its own. Pure live-action would have necessitated a separation between the real world of the characters and the imagined representations of their fantasies and insecurities. Here, those visions belong to the same reality. After all, such things felt so vividly real to us when we were teenagers. Pure animation would have necessitated a streamlining of character design and movement. Here, the characters are captured with a fidelity that a caricature could not match. The way their faces change and their bodies move are captured with lossless, human transitions. It is surprising every time in a way that a character design could not allow. Of course, the animation is only one aspect of the show’s aesthetic perfection. Nagahama’s direction is indispensable, faithfully adapting Shuzo Oshimi’s manga while liberally adding his own striking compositions. The series is littered with close-ups as character portraits and lingering shots of emotional turmoil and aftermath defined by suspenseful, nervous movement. It all works to bring the brisk pacing of the manga back down to the slow and purposeful build that the story deserves. The voice actors deliver amazingly naturalistic performances filled with raw emotion, with the post-production leaving intact all sorts of genuine cracks, hesitance, and frustration. This is to say nothing of the filmed actors whose studied physicalities were exactly what they needed to be. Further analysis could go into depth about the gorgeous backgrounds, the subtle ambient drone score, the pitch perfect dialogue, or even the show’s ending theme: a haunting and disjointed piece of experimental electronic music that encroaches into the final moments of every episode, oozing dread. Everything works. Anime is a medium still defined by safety and cliché. I would argue that it has yet to hit its golden age – a period that other popular media have already had – when actual innovations and risks are celebrated instead of snubbed. Without spoiling anything, one of the defining scenes of Aku no Hana is an act of vandalism that comes at a crucial junction between two characters. A choice is made and it is expressed in violent destruction. It is an act so far removed from physical sex, but for these two characters it might as well be that, and everything of that scene is a conscious choice to communicate that complicated idea. I look forward to the day when the medium will allow another such masterpiece to exist and when scenes such as that one come around more often than nearly never. Until that time comes, may we never forget Aku no Hana.


PRETTY COLORS Like in pretty much any show, the Flowers of Evil were judged by most, based on how they looked, instead of what they actually were. The anime community was divided into those who hated it because it doesn’t have the exact same artwork as the source material, thus it’s bad, and to those who loved it for the exact same reason, because it was avant garde. And of course close to nobody bothered to look past the pretty colours to see if there is anything else besides that. Stay classy you tasteless casuals.If you ask me, I say it is both ugly and artistic. On one hand, the budget is clearly low, making it look crude and not good fapping material for the otakus. On the other hand, it is unorthodox, experimental, and different. Both of these impressions are the result of rotorscoping, a technique no longer used much, since it takes way too much time to look nice compared to android animation. They didn’t give enough frames per second or detailed enough body structure, so the result feels very crude. The motions are jerky, and the characters don’t have faces or lightening when they are a few meters away from the camera. This makes them look bizarre, especially next to the backgrounds which remain fairly detailed and full of textures. Nonetheless, exactly because rotorscoping is very rare, it gives the show a special feel. If you are fed up with all those overused anime-style characters and their copy-pasted into infinity school grounds, then chances are you are going to embrace this artwork as a breath of fresh air. I mean, they could have simply used the bland artstyle of the manga, the result of which would be an anime nobody would notice or care about. By not doing that, it created an enormous amount of buzz, and became rather famous. SCRIPT & CAST But what does fame or animation style even mean in the longrun if theme exploration, characters and writing are garbage? When it comes to those elements, I found the show interesting but not developed. There is emphasis on the twisted mentality of the characters but it’s not going anywhere in specific, so by the end of the day it feels like deviance for the sake of deviance, with very little of anything else. It makes it focused, but also one-note. I appreciate the effort to deal with the issues of disturbed teenagers and trying to make something more other than yet another fan service oriented school comedy. It feels like a psychological thriller at times, but saying all that stuff led to something, would be a lie. Despite the characters SEEMINGLY acting far more realistic and plausible than your average school harem, they are still pretty simple and hard to take seriously. Especially the teen idol girl which is pure hearted to the point of stupidity, falling in love with the introvert loser protagonist for no real reason, and constantly forgiving him despite everything he did to her. And despite the various scenes where the characters are hallucinating, or completely lose themselves in rage and frustration, nothing really comes out of it. I can’t even say I cared about any of them either; they were so simple in character and bland in behaviour that I was given no reason to bother remembering them. And no, reading books or reciting poems is not depth of character. The only things I still fondly remember are the artistic overtones, the ending song, and the scene where they vandalize the school. Everything else is just a vague memory by now. What does that mean? If you have a show where you only remember one song, the art, and one scene, then you know there isn’t much content in it. The plot also uses the age-old trick of resetting progress after every event, and making everyone to act like they are too blind in figuring out who is responsible, or too stupid for doing the obvious. The show also ends incomplete, so you don’t even get closure. Thus the whole thing becomes once again an excuse for advertising the source material. That’s right people, the anime is just a sample, go read the manga, only to realize it is also not going anywhere as well. IN CONCLUSION In all, the Flowers of Evil try to be different and more mature than your run of the mill ecchi school comedy, by trapping you in a constant feeling of disgust and regret. It is still nowhere near great, and the small fanbase the show has are blowing its content out of proportion. If it had a faster plot, no character resets, closure, and the atmosphere was like episodes 7 and 8 all the time, I would consider it an amazing watch. But because it isn’t, I end up remembering mostly as an ugly looking piece of low budget art.

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